Teaching and coaching

One of my former colleagues gave up teaching — at least for a while — to become a “math coach.”

“What does that mean?” you may well ask. That’s what I asked, at any rate. We all know what an athletic coach is, and possibly even what a math team coach is (it was never clear whether I was an advisor or a coach for our math team), but a math coach? What’s that?

We can look at what Mr. Google tells us: I see that indeed.com currently has 15,143 math coach jobs available, including 289 in Massachusetts, and ZipRecruiter has 28,729 (nationwide, apparently), so it must be a thing. Fortunately, ZipRecruiter offers us a definition:

A math coach is a special type of teacher that focuses on teaching mathematics to elementary school children. You work closely with teachers and school administration to evaluate teachers, develop curriculum, and create strategies to better educate students. Additional job duties include working one-on-one with children to teach them new techniques and skills for solving mathematical problems. As a math coach, you don’t work in a single class. Instead, your responsibilities require you to move from classroom to classroom, providing support to various teachers.

So the job appears to embody a hidden assumption (or conclusion?) that a lot of regular elementary school teachers cannot effectively teach the math in their curriculum. That may or may not be true, but it’s not really the topic of this post.

Actually, math coaches in general aren’t really the topic either. What if someone is both a math teacher and an athletic coach? I know several such hybrids, and I bet you do too. Does their coaching inform their teaching, making them a more effective teacher? And does their teaching inform their coaching, making them a more effective coach? I could poll those who wear both hats, and maybe I will. In the meantime, we can drift over to a third version of the possible relationship between teaching and coaching: what can teachers and coaches learn from each other? This was the topic of a recent article in MindShift. First, the article makes the case that teachers have a lot to learn from coaches, in particular that “student learning would improve if teachers included more public performances in their instruction.” And coaches have a lot to learn from teachers:

Teachers often use structured lesson plans to teach specific skills. Trained in pedagogy, they will craft a particular lesson, explain what they’re teaching to the class, review what they went over at the end, and then prompt the students to practice. According to Gilbert, coaches often lack this essential teaching skill. “Coaches don’t connect the dots, about how the drills connect to the scrimmage, which then connects to the game,” he said.

Maybe so. Food for thought, anyway.



Categories: Teaching & Learning